Saturday, March 28, 2009

Untitled by E.E. Cummings

Cummings shows us that a good poem can be only four words long.





E.E. Cummings (1894-1962) discovered an original way of describing the chaotic immediacy of sensuous experience. He played games with language and form and put forth a deliberately simplistic view of the world, giving his poems a gleeful and precocious tone. He was born in Cambridge, Mass., attended Harvard and studied Art in Paris.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Underground by Seamus Heaney

On the surface, "Underground" is about a memory, but I think it's also about the process of writing poetry. Notice how the speaker returns to examine the scene in the last two stanzas, bare and tense and "all attention." That reads like Heaney the poet (not Heaney the husband) to me.


There we were in the vaulted tunnel running,
You in your going-away coat speeding ahead
And me, me then like a fleet god gaining
Upon you before you turned to a reed

Or some new white flower japped with crimson
As the coat flapped wild and button after button
Sprang off and fell in a trail
Between the Underground and the Albert Hall.

Honeymooning, moonlighting, late for the Proms,
Our echoes die in that corridor and now
I come as Hansel came on the moonlit stones
Retracing the path back, lifting the buttons

To end up in a draughty lamplit station
After the trains have gone, the wet track
Bared and tensed as I am, all attention
For your step following and damned if I look back.

Seamus Heaney was born into a family of farmers in County Derry, Northern Ireland in 1939. He currently lives in Dublin, but spends a part of each year teaching at Harvard University. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Freaks at Spurgin Road Field by Richard Hugo

This week, Richard Hugo's powerful villanelle about memories he's trying (unsuccessfully) to forget.

The Freaks at Spurgin Road Field

The dim boy claps because the others clap.
The polite word, handicapped, is muttered in the stands.
Isn’t it wrong, the way the mind moves back.

One whole day I sit, contrite, dirt, L.A.
Union Station, ’46, sweating through last night.
The dim boy claps because the others clap.

Score, 5 to 3. Pitcher fading badly in the heat.
Isn’t it wrong to be or not be spastic?
Isn’t it wrong, the way the mind moves back.

I’m laughing at a neighbor girl beaten to scream
by a savage father and I’m ashamed to look.
The dim boy claps because the others clap.

The score is always close, the rally always short.
I’ve left more wreckage than a quake.
Isn’t it wrong, the way the mind moves back.

The afflicted never cheer in unison.
Isn’t it wrong, the way the mind moves back
to stammering pastures where the picnic should have worked.
The dim boy claps because the others clap.

Richard Hugo was born in a Seattle suburb in 1923. He wrote many books of poetry and a popular book on how to write poetry called The Triggering Town. He died in 1982.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Epilogue to The Tempest by William Shakespeare

In a remarkably contemporary moment at the end of The Tempest, Shakespeare's wizard Prospero addresses the audience directly, breaking down the boundaries of the play. He informs them that the play is over, his powers are gone, and thus his escape from the play's island setting depends on their applause--that they, in effect, get to decide his fate.

He pulls a similar trick with Puck at the end of A Midsummer Night's Dream

Now my charms are all o'erthrown,
And what strength I have's mine own,
Which is most faint. Now, 'tis true,
I must be here confined by you,
Or sent to Naples. Let me not,
Since I have my dukedom got
And pardoned the deceiver, dwell
In this bare island by your spell,
But release me from my bands
With the help of your good hands.
Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails,
Which was to please. Now I want
Spirits to enforce, art to enchant,
And my ending is despair,
Unless I be relieved by prayer,
Which pierces so that it assaults
Mercy itself and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardoned be,
Let your indulgence set me free.

William Shakespeare 1564-1616